Leave Me by Gayle Forman

In brief: Maribeth has a heart attack and barely realises it. After emergency surgery, everyone still expects her to pick up the pieces. So she leaves her family. But what deeper thoughts are at play?

The good: The more I read, the more intrigued I was.

The not-so-good: Maribeth comes across as whinging at times – willing to complain, but not willing to try to say what the problem is.

Why I chose it: Many thanks to Simon & Schuster – who knew I’d enjoy this before I even did!

Year: 2016

Pages: 340

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: New York City and Pittsburgh

My rating: 8 out of 10

I’ve never read Gayle Forman’s books before but the premise of Leave Me intrigued me. So many people have heart attacks that it’s almost commonplace and while there’s cardiac rehab for your heart, not too much detail is put into how the person recovers from a life-changing event. It’s completely normal to be scared, sad and worried and want to talk about it to someone. It’s even scarier when you’re a younger person. For our main character Maribeth, she gets thrown into the cardiac deep end and is left to swim to shore herself.

Maribeth is your typical woman in her mid-forties – she’s super busy trying to juggle a job, children, household and husband. She feels like she’s the one to pick up the pieces when anything happens. So of course she works through her heart attack, blaming it on dodgy food. It’s only due to a fortuitously timed gynaecologist appointment that she ends up getting checked out. She tries to bargain with the cardiologist to come back next week for angioplasty, but he’s having none of it. And then it goes wrong even more spectacularly and Maribeth ends up having emergency cardiac surgery.

You would think that’s enough to deal with but the new life Maribeth wakes up to is even more awkward to deal with. Her mother comes to stay (supposedly to look after the children) and her husband goes back to work. Everyone expects her pick up from where she left off, being dishwasher, household account and supermum. Maribeth didn’t come back for this. So she up and leaves her family. What drove her to this and what will she do? She needs to work this out for herself, even though she doesn’t really know why she ended up in Pittsburgh.

I came to love Leave Me in stages. Initially I didn’t warm to Maribeth – she complained a lot about how big her burden was with kids/husband/housework/job etc. but didn’t seem willing to attempt to break out of that cycle. Her friendship with her best friend Elizabeth has gone weird now that Elizabeth is her boss. Her husband doesn’t pick up the slack with the kids and apartment. But after her heart attack and surgery, it was like her eyes opened and we could see the real Maribeth start to wake up and look around her. As Maribeth moves into her new life of single anonymity, she begins to admit to herself the issues in her life that are still worrisome years later. Why her boyfriend Jason (now husband) left her. Her adoption. Her friendship with Elizabeth. Maribeth’s new friends, without even really knowing it, help her to confront her past and return to her present. I also loved the swimming metaphor as Maribeth comes to understand what’s holding her back.

Leave Me is a coming of age story for middle age. It shows how you don’t have to carry your baggage, but examine it and discard the detritus. It examines relationships of all kinds (lover, friends of different degrees and family). It also shows that it’s okay to say, this isn’t working for me and I want to change things. It’s a carefully crafted observation of human nature, both the good and bad in times of need.

Once Maribeth stopped having a one person pity party, I grew to like her and the pages flew by. It’s an easy read – the cardiac stuff isn’t over dominating and it’s portrayed very realistically. There are a lot of symbols and metaphors – broken hearts, healing etc. that are a nice touch but not in your face. I loved how the slower pace of Maribeth’s new life was reflected in the writing; it was softer, slower and more lyrical.

This is a great character driven book that is sweet, frustrating (I just wanted to tell Maribeth’s mum to get off the couch at times!) and ultimately satisfying.

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2 thoughts on “Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Add yours

  1. I loved this one more than the two YA books of hers that I’ve read. Probably because I could relate to the whole inequitable division of labor in marriage/family life. I hadn’t thought about Maribeth as having a pity party, but you’re right. She could have been direct and spoken up, even asking for help.

    The fact that she didn’t is a reminder of how entrenched we often are in these roles.

    Thanks for sharing!

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